Eddie Guerrero Herrera

Abstract

Winds of Change is the autobiographical work of Tsoltim Ngima Shakabpa in which he narrates, in verse, some of the critical events that shaped his life, and was written to serve other Tibetans as an example of survival and perseverance. The story starts with his birth in Lhasa in 1943 and runs until the early 2000s, when after two major health scares he changed his lifestyle and dedicated his days to, amongst other activities, writing poetry. The book is the story of a globetrotter who, due to the Chinese invasion, was forced to leave Tibet at the age of six, grew up in India, obtained a college degree in the US and in his early thirties became a banker, a career that took him to many places, mainly in Asia, before returning to the US, where he currently lives. Moreover, the book is also the story of a Tibetan whose love for his country of birth developed not only through his involvement in activities of the Tibetan community, but also through the example of his father’s life and his father’s passion for keeping alive the Tibetan culture and the Tibetan cause.
Summary / Review

Winds of Change is the autobiography of Tsoltim Ngima Shakabpa. The autobiography is relatively brief, organised in fifteen short chapters, and it is rather unique because it was written in verse, which is challenging and ambitious. While in most cases verse did work, in some passages the rhymes seemed forced and, a result, mildly distracting. The autobiography included an introduction, written in prose, in which Tsoltim mentions how two grave diseases led to important changes in his life. The introduction exudes humility and positivity, and it is quite auspicious.
The autobiography starts with Tsoltim’s early years, from his birth, in Lhasa, in 1943. Tsoltim includes a brief overview of the importance of his family lineage as well as his father’s high status as a spokesman of the Tibetan National Assembly and Minister of Finance. When he was six years old, his family had to flee to India as a result of the Chinese invasion of Tibet. The narrative introduces two patterns that are present throughout the autobiography. The first one is Tsoltim’s frequent depiction of his and his family’s privileged life; in his young years that meant comfortable houses, good schools, trips and parties. The second is Tsoltim’s admiration for his parents, particularly for his father: when talking about his early and teenage years, Tsoltim highlights his father’s efforts to keep alive Tibetan traditions and heritage, and he also narrates his father’s active involvement in the revolution in Tibet, including his crucial role in helping other Tibetans after the Dalai Lama was forced to flee the country in 1959.
At the age of 19, the story moved to the US: thanks to a scholarship he got through his father’s contacts, Tsoltim moved to study at Adelphi University. Tsoltim writes about his experience at arrival, the university life, and the experience of dealing with more money than he needed or could manage. In 1964 his parents visited the US because Yale University had granted his father financing to write the story of the Tibetan nation; Tsoltim’s admiration for his father is clear when he talks about the book his father wrote. While studying Tsoltim met Maggie, who became his wife in 1966, and after graduation (January 1967) they decided to move to India.
When the couple arrived to Kalimpong in February 1967, Maggie was 5 months pregnant, and Tsoltim tells about the idyllic life they lived when his son Wangchuk was born, although that didn’t last long because a year later the Dalai Lama called him to work for a semi-Tibetan Governmental Agency that worked to help Tibetan refugees. Unfortunately, by the end of 1968 his mother was diagnosed with cancer and she passed away on the day of her birthday. Beyond the pain and struggle, here Tsoltim shares very kind words for his mother: this is one of the few cases in the autobiography in which I think verses excelled in their capacity to express feelings, both of mourning and gratitude.
Tsoltim returned to the US in 1971 following the steps of his wife, who had moved back the previous year. Thanks to his father’s contacts, Tsoltim was able to get a job at Franklin National Bank: this marked the beginning of his career as a banker. Further, his father decided to buy a house for him and his brother, and Tsoltim acknowledges that it was easy to surrender to a comfortable and pleasurable life. Tsoltim also mentions how jealousy brought difficulties to his marriage, but the birth of his daughter helped, although just temporarily. In 1974, Tsoltim started working for J. Henry Schroeder Banking Corporation, a job that opened the doors to his international career, and in 1976 he moved to Republic National Bank of New York. His life was organised around his job, with hard work during the day and cocktails at night, a hectic life that started taking a toll on his marriage. In this period Tsoltim met Vilma, a Filipino lady with whom he started a relationship. Maggie found out about this relationship by accident, and that marked the end of the marriage. The narrative of these events left a bad taste in my mouth because I was left with the impression that, instead of expressing remorse for his actions, he tries to justify the events, as if they were the result of destiny. Tsoltim married Vilma in July 1979. Tsoltim continues the narrative with some insights into his life as international banker, including how he continued climbing the professional ladder.
In 1980, Tsoltim was assigned to the bank’s Hong Kong office, where he stayed for seven years. He talks about the perks he received and how he and his wife settled for a rather comfortable expat life. He travelled frequently for work, and he was successful. Tsoltim highlights Vilma’s social skills as instrumental for his success. It is interesting how in previous passages he made similar comments about his mother and Maggie, about their supporting role, possibly a reflection of the still secondary role of women in Tibetan society. Tsoltim also tells about the extensive personal travelling he did in Asia and Europe with his children and Vilma’s son, and he also gives the reader a peek into the life of parties and fun he had during those years.
Tsoltim returned to the US in 1987, when the bank sent him to manage a subsidiary in Corpus Christi, Texas. He succeeded in making money for the bank, and due to business he continued travelling to Europe and Asia. His father’s frequent visits allowed Tsoltim to build good memories. Unfortunately, his father fell ill in 1988 and, following Tsoltim’s advice, in December that year travelled to Corpus Christi to seek medical assistance. His father was diagnosed with advanced stomach cancer, with low survival chances, and decided not to seek treatment: “… he claimed his time was up” (55). Tsoltim once again shows high respect and admiration for his father when he highlights his father’s efforts to continue writing stories about Tibet that he didn’t want people to forget. Tsoltim also refers to his father’s hatred for China, for what they had done to Tibet, and his belief in the power of words:“If the pen is mightier than the swordthen our side will stand with God.China may wield the sword nowbut to the pen she will finally bow” (56)
Next, Tsoltim broadly describes his father’s last days until his death in 1989 at the age of 82. Tsoltim honours his father with a poem, another case in which verses worked at their best, with similar value and intention as the poem Tsoltim dedicated to his mother, but this time centered in the value and importance his father had for Tibet and for him, as his hero and his master.

Tsoltim decided to leave the bank and to become independent. He and his wife moved to Seattle and started a business that required travelling and significant effort. His son graduated from law school in 1992 and Tsoltim was exultant as expressed by the poem full of love and admiration that he wrote. In this poem Tsoltim moved away from the pure rhyme style that prevails in his autobiography; this is one of the few passages in which he does this and was the result was positive because the verses here seem to be more effective and to flow more naturally. In 1993 Tsoltim was diagnosed with stomach cancer. He underwent surgery and started chemotherapy and radiation, suffering immensely due to the side effects. It is because of this suffering, and against his doctors, family and friends’ advice, that he and Vilma decided to travel. A month after surgery they went on a two-month trip that took them to various countries in Asia where he was able to relax and meditate while visiting friends. This was apparently the right decision because at his return his doctors could not find a trace of the illness, he was “miraculously” healed.
In the last chapter of his autobiography Tsoltim exposes the internal conflict between being American and his love for his motherland. His feelings are best summarised by the following verses: “My heart will die for America, my soul will live on for Tibet” (67). His love for his motherland became his drive. He became president of the Tibetan Association of Washington in 1995, collaborating in various activities to support and promote Tibetans and Tibetan culture. In January 1999, he suffered a minor stroke and suffered a major one while he was recovering at the hospital: he was left with his body’s left-side incapacitated. The recovery period started with the support of his wife and his sister, as well as his friends; he expresses gratitude to all of them, and he is particularly grateful to Vilma for her devotion to him. His daughter quit her job to support him during his recovery; he also writes grateful verses to her. It is at this point that the autobiography becomes more valuable thanks to Tsoltim becoming more reflective: he reflects on how the stroke changed his life and how poetry and pursuing Tibet’s independence were key for his recovery. In 2000 he moved to California, his daughter moved back to New Jersey, and in 2001 his wife returned to work. As part of his reflections, he included a rather long section of verses for his grandniece, and this time he also moved away from pure rhyme. He further talks about the value of writing poetry. Tsoltim reflects on his behaviour before the two diseases, chasing money and prestige, and he also recognizes that he was selfish but says that he has changed, that he is more grateful and spiritual. Tsoltim feels ready for whatever comes (“I feel blessed and ready for God’s final call” (76)), and he finishes his autobiography with a poem that reflects about continuous change and uncertainties in life, ending the poem with a precious suggestion:“So be humble, be meekbut always be brave and always seek” (76)